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Spurs push Heat to the brink

Ginobili makes surprise return, contributes 24 points, 10 assists

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SAN ANTONIO -- With the old Manu Ginobili back, the San Antonio Spurs looked like champs again.

One more victory and their Big Three, not Miami's, will be the one that rules the NBA.

Ginobili broke out of a slump in a big way with 24 points and 10 assists in his first start of the season, and the Spurs beat the Heat 114-104 on Sunday night to take a 3-2 lead.

Tony Parker scored 26 points, Tim Duncan had 17 points and 12 rebounds, and Ginobili had his highest-scoring game of the season as the Spurs became the first team to shoot 60 per cent in a finals game in four years.

Danny Green smashed the NBA Finals record for 3-pointers with six more and scored 24 points. Kawhi Leonard finished with 16, but the stage was set when Ginobili trotted out with Duncan, Parker and the rest of starters in what could have been the last finals home game for a trio that's meant so much to San Antonio.

The AT&T Center crowd roared when Ginobili was the last Spurs player announced and chanted his name in the second half, a familiar sight and sound in San Antonio but not during what had been a miserable series for the former Sixth Man of the Year.

"He's obviously very popular. He's been here a long time. He's helped us have a lot of success over the years," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade each scored 25 points for the Heat, who host Game 6 on Tuesday. They need a victory to force the first Game 7 in the finals since the Lakers beat the Celtics in 2010.

Miami's Big Three formed a few weeks after that game, with predictions of multiple titles to follow. Now they're a loss away from going just 1 for 3 in finals to start their partnership, while the Spurs could run their perfect record to 5 for 5.

Duncan won his first title in 1999, and Parker and Ginobili were with him for three championships since. They have been the perfect partnership, keeping the Spurs in the hunt virtually every year while teams like the Lakers, Mavericks and Suns have all risen and fallen in the Western Conference during that time.

They remained unbeaten in Game 5s, including two previous victories when the series was tied at 2-2. Of the 27 times the finals have been tied at 2-2, the Game 5 winner has won 20 of them.

Miami was the most recent loser, falling to Dallas in Game 5 in 2011 before being eliminated at home the next game.

San Antonio shot 42 of 70, right at 60 per cent. The last team to make 60 per cent of its shots in the finals was Orlando, which hit 62.5 in Game 3 against the Lakers in 2009, according to STATS.

"They just absolutely outplayed us," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "At times they were just picking one guy out at a time and going at us mano-a-mano. That's got to change."

Ray Allen scored 21 points on the night for the Heat as Green shattered his finals 3-point record.

The Heat were within one with 3:05 left in the third before Green hit yet another 3-pointer and Ginobili followed with the stretch that turned the game into the fourth straight blowout of the finals.

The crafty lefty plays with a flair developed on the courts of Argentina and perfected in Europe before coming to the NBA. He sees angles other players can't and takes risks few others would, but his style has been the perfect fit alongside Duncan and Parker.

He converted a three-point play, tossed in a floater with his left hand as he drifted right, and found Tiago Splitter under the hoop with a pass to make it 85-74. He flipped in another runner with 2.9 seconds to go, sending the Spurs to the fourth with an 87-75 lead as fans chanted "Manu! Manu!" during the break between the third and fourth quarters.

Ginobili had been averaging just 7.5 points on 34.5 per cent shooting in the series, making only three of his 16 3-point attempts. But Spurs Popovich made the finals' second lineup change in two games, after the Heat inserted Mike Miller to start Game 4.

Ginobili didn't make a start this season and certainly hadn't been playing like someone who belonged with the first five. But in the Spurs' biggest game of the season, they remained confident he would break out, and they were right.

It was the first time he scored 24 or more points since having 34 on June 4, 2012, against Oklahoma City, according to STATS.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 17, 2013 C7

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